“You’d expect a lot of space in the Museum of Interventions to be devoted to all that pre-Cortez shoving and pushing. I did, at any rate. Well, I was wrong. The museum begins with the Spanish Era and ends with Pancho Villa. There’s nothing at all about the Mexicas or any of the Nahuatl until you’re about to leave the museum. Then, at last, you see in a shadowy archway a painting showing Aztec priests offering a sacrifice to Huitzilpochtli, in the Diego Rivera style where you use up all the red and orange way before you even open up any of the less outrage-tinted tubes of oil paint. It’s quite a gory little mural, not even pretending to be sympathetic to the Indios, as you’d expect of a 21st-century museum, especially one in an officially Mestizo nation with a big surplus of anti-colonial artists and intellectuals. You get the feeling whoever painted it really didn’t like those Aztecs much.
“Actually, that was what I saw, to my extreme surprise, everywhere in Mexico City. No one seemed particularly interested in celebrating the pre-Conquest past except as a kind of cultural capital, a proof that the genetic base of the current population had artistic and intellectual creds to spare. That’s the picture you get in the big museum, the National Anthropology Museum in Chapultepec Park: One exhibition after another demonstrating the sophisticated arts ’n’ crafts of the Aztec, Maya, Toltec, Olmec and Mixtec peoples, as if they’d been around forever making the same souvenirs, rather than bargaining, bluffing, and fighting their way up and down in a constantly shifting ethnic tournament that used up contenders faster than the UFC.”